By: Amy Brook-Partridge; Photography by Ken Tan
According to an article in UK broadsheet The Telegraph, the number of kitchen-diners in British homes has risen by almost 50 percent in the last decade – one in three homes now features a kitchen-diner, and one in five Britons plans to blend their separate living and cooking spaces into a single area.
This rise in the popularity of open plan living is not just happening in the UK. Demand from expats in Singapore has encouraged property owners here to open up spaces, when previously rooms were more likely to be defined by a single use – kitchens for cooking, dining rooms for eating. Now, kitchens are for cooking, talking, eating, relaxing, and dining rooms can be for working, playing and lounging in.
The fact that this trend is going global is partly down to a well-travelled community and partly down to interconnectivity, says Melissa Kay, marketing executive for Natural Living. “We see a lot and get to know a lot; we obtain ideas and try to replicate them or even improve on them. As such, trends transcend continental boundaries and style changes become commonplace. There’s a willingness to challenge convention and think out of the box.”
But why does this desire to mix our home areas work so well here? “Open plan living provides a greater sense of space and encourages a more communal way of living,” says Jane Warner, owner of Modern Eclectic. “In an urban environment like Singapore where space is at a premium, it’s essential to maximise its use and create rooms that are versatile and multifunctional.” However, Jane also points out how challenging it can be to make this work, particularly when taking into consideration the various needs and tastes of different family members. “This, and the fact that we have to adapt furniture inherited from previous homes into an entirely new setting, can make things interesting.”
Furnishing sizeable open plan spaces can cause headaches. Do you use huge statement pieces or pepper the space with smaller elements? And how do you differentiate the areas without creating too much separation?
“First, identify the essential requirements for the living areas in order to create zones,” says Jane Warner. “If a space is too open it can lack intimacy and make you feel exposed, so create more intimate areas according to your needs.” The key to planning your layout, according to Jane, is to allow for traffic flow through the space and to not to restrict access to doors and other rooms. “Start with the large key pieces such as the sofa and dining table, then add in smaller pieces.”
Jane suggests sticking with a unified colour scheme and similar wood tones for a cohesive look. “However, it’s nice to play with textures within the colour scheme for more variety. Contrasting fabrics and finishes looks great – the more different the better; rustic with sleek, metal with wood, ornately patterned with plain.” Mixing periods and styles also works well and can accommodate diverse preferences.
One current trend is to create a seating area with different styles of chairs for interest. “Stools are great multifunctional pieces that can provide extra seating when necessary without restricting space or a sense of openness.” Another is the use of lamps or candles for low-level lighting to create a more relaxing and cosy feel within an open area.
Jane Warner’s tips for working with large open plan spaces
• Storage: Plenty of storage space works to reduce visual clutter. Cabinets, chests and shelving help you keep things in order.
• Zoning: Define one zone from another by the clever placement of furniture – for example, add height to a console table with lamps or ornaments to create an open screen.
• Accessories: Rugs can help to delineate an area. So can plants, which also lend a softer feel and a link through to the outside.
• Lighting: Add atmosphere and intimacy to a dining area by hanging a low pendant light over the table.
• Work and play: Dining tables make a good work area for the family; it can be nicer to work in an open plan space than shut away in an office. When the table’s not in use, have a display of books and magazines on hand.
Not many of us are fortunate enough to have a palatial open plan pad, and with the vertical rise of the Singapore skyline, many have to make do with small apartments where one area has to serve a multitude of uses. Galley kitchens are often opened up to combined living and dining spaces, leaving tenants to search for clever tricks to differentiate the space between where they eat and where they lounge.
Taylor B’s director of operations Anthony Desaram points out that, just because a space is small, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should scale down the furniture: “Standard-size and oversize pieces in a small room can actually make the space feel larger.” Of course, not every piece should or could be large, but using one or two sizeable pieces can make more of a statement and help avoid making the place feel overfilled and cluttered. He advises that you start by planning the dining area and work from there towards the living area.
“Multipurpose furniture is a huge help when working with tight spaces,” he says, “and items such as folding screens and open étagères (shelving units) make great partitions.” Think extendable dining tables, kitchen bars and bar stools, screens and indoor/outdoor furniture and you’re on the right track.
Working with small open plan spaces – in a nutshell
• Use multipurpose furniture and furniture with additional storage.
• Separate areas with folding screens or shelving units.
• Don’t be afraid to feature one or two large pieces of furniture.
• Extendable dining tables can be useful in tight spaces.
• Outdoor furniture can double for indoor use.
INDOORS TO OUTDOORS
By creatively engaging the use of outdoor furniture one can extend the open plan feel of a space, according to Natural Living’s Melissa Kay. “The whole idea is to minimise restrictions and to create a ‘free play’ between integrated open plan home spaces, creating one giant playground.”
Melissa says that dark colours draw less attention to furniture, while light colours give it more presence, and bright colours attract immediate attention. “The choice will depend on the kind of effect one is hoping to achieve. Other factors, such as flooring type and colour, for instance, and wall colour, will contribute to the overall effect.”
Many outdoor furniture products are made with highly durable and water-resistant materials, making them ideal for areas of high use.
WORKING WITH RUGS
A space is not complete once the furniture is placed; there are the accessories to consider. Rugs can play a vital part in an open plan style scheme. “What you use depends on the layout and whether the space is regular or irregular,” says The Rugmaker‘s sales manager Melvyn Khong.
“If it’s a regular space, a large rug that runs through the living room to the dining room will give it a more spacious look, not confining or defining the area. This has become quite trendy these days.” If, however, you are looking to define the areas, use two rugs that complement each other to differentiate the space.
For irregular spaces, Melvyn suggests using smaller rugs to define the areas; for small open plan living spaces, he advises against overwhelming or crowding the areas. “A rug should preferably be placed in front of the sofa; it should be substantial in size, without covering the whole floor; rather, use your flooring to frame the rug. Most importantly, take correct measurements to ensure the rug fits properly.”
Patterns and colours
“A rug is the foundation for a room, so when decorating you should draw from colours featured in your rug to create a cohesive look. For a huge open space, the pattern and colours can generally be more neutral; they should complement all soft furnishings such as fabric and wallpaper. For a smaller open space, repetitive patterns and fewer colour combinations will be better: two to three colours, one solid colour, or tone on tone.”
– The Rugmaker’s Melvyn Khong
Want to see even more living spaces that we love? See the top living areas from EL readers’ homes in the gallery below…
Want more home inspiration? See our home decor section!